ARCHEOLOGICAL MUSEUM, Bas-Relief Of Eleusis Room 15

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The large bas-relief of Eleusis depicting Demeter and Kore with Triptolemus was sculpted in marble around 440 BC for the extremely important sanctuary of Eleusis, about 25 kilometers from Athens. It was here that they celebrated the Eleusinian Mysteries, the sacred ceremonies in honor of the goddess Demeter, Mother Earth and her daughter Kore, also known as Persephone. Along with the Mysteries in honor of Dionysius, they were the most important celebrations in the Ancient World.

According to legend, Kore was abducted by Hades, the god of the Underworld. Her mother Demeter wandered desperately in search of her, while the Earth was struck by a tremendous famine and drought, until Zeus took mercy on her and allowed Kore to return to the surface. Upon her return, nature once again began to flourish, but six months later, Kore was tricked into returning to the Underworld. The myth is linked with the agricultural seasons: her abduction represents the planting of the seeds underground, while the yearly return of Kore to the surface represents the growth and ripening of the crops.

The Eleusinian Mysteries were celebrated every year, in September, and thousands of people traveled from Athens to Eleusis along the sacred road that ran from the city to the sanctuary. The faithful were initiated to the Mysteries with secret practices, and celebrated a ceremony shrouded in mystery, of which very little is known. It may have been a sacred representation that offered the faithful a chance to relive the myth of Demeter and Kore, i.e. the passage from darkness to light, experiencing the fear of death and freeing themselves from it.

The solemn, sacred bas-relief shows the moment in which Demeter, happy to see her daughter return, presents the young son of the king of Eleusis, Triptolemus, with an ear or some grains of wheat, as Kore blesses him. Triptolemus would then join the world of men to teach them the secret of agriculture.

The ear of wheat, made of metal, has now disappeared.


An interesting fact: the sanctuary of Eleusis, in keeping with tradition was the only place the Mysteries could be celebrated; it was closed with the Roman emperor Theodosius’s Edict of Thessaloniki in 380 AD, which declared Christianity the state religion and prohibited all forms of pagan worship in the temples and the sanctuaries. This brought an end to the cult of Eleusis, one of the oldest and most important in the Ancient World.

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